Petrol prices are not regulated in Australia, but are determined by market forces. The Commonwealth Competition and Consumer Act 2010 prohibits anti-competitive behaviour, such as price fixing, by any industry.
There are a number of factors that influence the price consumers pay for fuel. For example:
- changes in international prices for refined petroleum products
- movements in the Australian/US dollar exchange rate
- retail or pump prices vary across metropolitan and regional areas, reflecting local area factors and competition
- retail prices in metropolitan areas also tend to follow a discounting cycle
- the cost to transport fuel to the service station outlet
- the level of federal and state excise and taxes.
Consumers should shop around for the best price and do their homework when buying petrol.
You can do this by taking advantage of the weekly price cycle, where it operates, to buy fuel early in the week when prices tend to be lowest.
There are other steps you can take to ensure you pay the lowest price possible for petrol:
- check local media outlets such as newspapers
- search the internet for sites that provide fuel monitoring prices
- check the information provided by motoring associations.
Further information about fuel pricing is available from the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission.
Petrol price advertising
Service station operators must follow the same trading regulations set out in the Competition and Consumer Act 2010 as other retailers.
Service station operators must ensure all advertising materials such as outdoor signs and billboards are accurate. False or misleading advertising is against the law and significant penalties apply.
Bait advertising is the practice of encouraging customers to shop at a particular business by advertising goods and services at an attractive price without having a reasonable supply of product to meet demand. In the case of service stations, bait advertising would occur when inadequate stocks run out and result in the customer being ´switched´ to higher-priced products.
The Competition and Consumer Act 2010 provides for significant penalties in circumstances where a trader engages in conduct that is misleading or deceptive or is likely to mislead or deceive. Advertising a product at one price but charging a higher price would constitute misleading or deceptive conduct.
In the case of service stations, the price displayed on price boards should match those displayed on the bowsers and at the cash register. Pricing signage should also be removed as soon as practicable when a particular fuel type has run out.
If the price of fuel increases while you are waiting to fill your vehicle, you have to pay the higher price.
Service station operators should increase the price on the external advertising boards before they increase the price you pay at the pumps.
Usually, they do not increase the price at the pump until after all the vehicles in line at the time have filled up.
The National Measurement Institute regularly check petrol pumps for measuring and pricing accuracy.
To ensure you pay a fair price for your fuel:
- check that the price on the pump matches the price on the sign
- ensure that the pump is set to zero before it releases petrol
- roughly total the price yourself and check that it matches the price calculated by the pump
- note the pump number and price to ensure the cashier does not charge you incorrectly
- check your receipt.
Consumers should always try to resolve disputes in regards to advertising or measurement with the trader directly. However if this is not possible, or if you are unhappy with the response of the trader, lodge a complaint with us.
Consumers may wish to contact the ACCC's InfoCentre on 1300 302 502 if they have evidence of anti-competitive conduct, such as pricing agreements between competing petrol retailers, or concerns that the conduct of petrol retailers may breach other provisions of the Competition and Consumer Act such as the consumer protection provisions prohibiting advertising that is misleading or deceptive.
For enquiries about fuel quality, contact the Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities.
Last reviewed 24/05/2012